At Milwaukee and Racine
At the corner of Milwaukee and Racine, in Chicago, a ghost bike honors fallen bicyclist Lisa Kuivinen, who was trapped and dragged to her death in 2016.
I had hopes that this short story would be part of a project called Intersections, which was going to be a display and book in memory of those who died from any sort of road accident through any art medium. Either there weren’t many entries or the project simply fell apart, but I was inspired to contribute a piece.
My husband works near the location of her death, so he suggested I look into the accident at that intersection.
Here’s the resulting story:
Even in the middle of August, when the heat index is supposed to reach over 100 degrees, there are those days when Mother Nature decides to give everyone a break from the oppressive temperatures. Melvin Perkins could care less about the weather; he’s more concerned with keeping the electricity paid for to keep his bride of three years along with their two-year-old daughter cool whenever they wanted. Carole has been out of work since decided that being a telemarketer wasn’t her thing; she choose homemaking instead.
Dedicated to the memory of Lisa Kuivinen
Even in the middle of August, when the heat index is supposed to reach over 100 degrees, there are those days when Mother Nature decides to give everyone a break from the oppressive temperatures. Melvin Perkins could care less about the weather; he’s more concerned with keeping the electricity paid for to keep his bride of three years along with their two-year-old daughter cool whenever they wanted. Carole has been out of work since she decided that being a telemarketer wasn’t her thing; she choose homemaking instead.
By 5:22 a.m., Melvin awoke to the buzz of his phone charging on the nightstand. “Hello?” his voice attempts to say through the gravel within his throat.
“Mel, this here’s Hank over at the Roy-al Brick Company.”
“Look’s like I need you to haul a load down to the construction site down on Milwaukee. You have ta enter the site using the alley off Racine. I’ll give ya more specifics when you get down here. Ya free today, right?”
Fully awake now, Melvin replies, “Of course. Thanks for calling me. I’m free all day for any sort of loads. I’m on my way.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Malcolm. His back went out again. Geez,” Hank adds then hangs up.
“You got a job today?” Carole asks while rolling on her other side. This second pregnancy has eased her suffering now that she’s a few weeks into her second trimester.
“Mommm….y! Mommm…y!” echos from another bedroom down the hall. Annie’s awake, probably standing up in her crib, bouncing up and down waiting for one of them to free her from her cage.
“Looks like it. This is the seventh time this month that Hank has called me to fill-in for Malcolm. I hate to say it, but I hope Malcolm takes a medical leave, then I can be on full-time for him instead of this part-time basis.”
“Maybe…that’ll be good. Then we can actually have insurance and a steady stream of money coming in,” Carole says, running her fingers though her short blonde hair. She leaves Melvin to dress while she gets their daughter to start the day.
After Melvin ate his daily bowl of oatmeal with a banana and kissed his wife and daughter good-bye, he drives his aged, but in fair condition, F-150 truck for the thirty-minute drive from his west suburban home east to his job. Once he parks, checks in with Hank, he grabs the keys for the eighteen wheeler he loves to drive.
Someday that’ll be mine…
Climbing up, he pats his rear left pocket, which is lighter each paycheck due to the automatic deductions to pay for his haulin’ ride. Off Melvin drives to pick-up the load of bricks standing by.
Less than twenty miles away, Guadalupe Delgado finished taking her shower. Her hair drips dry as she sits on her mom’s bed to review their schedules.
“What classes to you have today, Lupe?” Melissa asks while straighten up the bed, shooing her twenty-year-old daughter out of the way.
“Tuesdays are the best since it’s animation from nine to four. I can’t wait to actually start learning how to draw for motion. You know, make my characters show life.”
“I think it’ll be great, honey. I won’t be home until closer to nine; I have clients until eight today,” Melissa adds fluffing her red hair high in all directions.
Melissa’s career as a hairdresser for a salon in the Gold Coast had been a lifelong dream come true. It is not unusual for her to travel to New York, Los Angeles, and even Paris if a client requests for her to do her or his hair. Even with her absences from time to time, Melissa knows that she has provided a stable home the past few years, unlike before, when her husband, Lupe’s father, passed away from colon cancer. His passing was sudden and unexpected; within three months of Jesus being diagnosed, he was gone.
“That’s fine, Mom. Maybe I’ll pick up dinner for us on the way home from class. Maybe I’ll make those green chile enchiladas of Abuela’s. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“Whatever you think, Lupe. It’s almost seven. Why don’t you finish getting ready? I’ll meet you in the kitchen for a quick breakfast.” Lupe goes back to her bathroom to blow-dry her blue hair that her mom just cut and dyed Sunday. She loves how the color, along with her various piercings in her ears, nose, and eyebrow make her feel like the artist she is meant to be. Similar to her mother, Lupe wants to showcase her creative ways not just through her work, but also in her appearance.
Melissa beat Lupe to the kitchen, where she already has two fried eggs, buttered toast, and a handful of watermelon waiting for her daughter. Even though many of Lupe’s friends live in apartments somewhere in the city of Chicago, Lupe knows that she is better off staying with her mom. She doesn’t have to worry about paying the rent, paying for utilities, or paying for all of these other unexpected expenses, while going to school full-time and trying to work full-time in order to pay for what’s yet to be. Lupe is able to be an art major and then use her spare time to write music. Lupe is grateful for her mom, whom she considers a best friend.
“I’m going now, Mom!” Lupe says while pulling on her heavy backpack. She grabs her bike that rests by the door. Down the stairs and out into the morning sun Lupe pauses to allow the sun to warm her face and back. The Lake Michigan breeze cools the heat slightly.
At the stoplight off the Augusta exit from 90/94, Melvin looks around to familiarize himself with the area. Melvin studies the intersection closely. If he goes straight, he would remain on Augusta. If he makes a slight left, he would go back on 90/94. If he makes a right, he’d be going against traffic. Melvin remembers to make a sharp left. While waiting, Melvin notices the green bike lanes are unprotected throughout this area. Several cyclists zoom around vehicles, avoiding to stop for any reason, including for a red stoplight.
On the green, Melvin shifts the truck slowly making the turn. Since there is only one lane, he can only move as fast as the truck allows him to. He can tell the drivers behind him are losing their patience.
Oh, well.They can go around me if they want.
The bike lane over the bridge is protected. Melvin knows he needs to turn right somewhere soon. Upon seeing Racine, he maneuvers the truck into the bike lane to his destination. Moving slowly down the street, Melvin’s open driver’s side window sends a scraping sound to ricochet around his cabin. Immediately, he halts the truck once he clears the turn.
Jumping down from his cab, Melvin falls flat on the ground to inspect the area directly underneath the driver’s compartment. A white bike has been pinned by the front set of wheels, followed by the body of a purple haired girl whose eyes stare blankly open. He can tell that her left cheek has been rubbed violently by the concrete street and blood oozes around her head.
“Oh God!” Melvin exclaims, jerking back up and into his cab to snatch his cell phone from his backpack. He dials 9-1-1.
“What is your emergency?”
“I’m on Racine right off of Milwaukee. I’ve just hit a girl on a bike. She is trapped under the cab of my truck.”
“Can you see her sir?”
“Are you able to reach her to help her out?”
“No…no…I’m not. Not able to do a thing. I think she’s dead. Oh, God. Could you please send help?”
“I already have sir. They should be there within a few minutes. There is a fire station not far from you.”
“Oh God. What did I do?” Melvin whispers in disbelief, trying to catch his breath.
“Sir? Sir? What is your name?”
“Melvin.” The shortness of breath is making his head start to spin.
“Okay, Melvin, stay with me. Let’s wait together until help arrives.”
After the paramedics remove Lupe’s body, after bystanders took all the pictures and video they wanted, after the Chicago police officer gives Melvin two citations: one for driving in a bike lane and the second for failing to take due care, Melvin sits on the nearby curb.
Within the hour, Melvin finds himself safely sitting back in his trusty Ford cab with his pulse still elevated, his knees feeling weak, and his stomach aching. He manages to find the alley to drop off the much needed load of bricks. He’s not worried that he is late to drop off the load. Once done, he heads back to the company to file the report about the accident.
Even though Lupe did not get to experience her first animation class, her friends and fellow cyclists would not forget her.
By early September, a Ghost Bike ceremony is arranged as a result of Melissa completing an online form. The Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Melissa finds herself framed by her friends, family, and even by some faces she does not recognize. With the media coverage, on-the-air and off through social sites, word spread quickly about Lupe’s death.
Melvin’s distressed face is one in the crowd. He needs to do something to honor this girl. Unfortunately, he cannot afford to stop being a Class A driver, especially now that Malcolm decided to retire early due to his health issues; he has to have back surgery by the end of the month with the expectation that he would get some relief.
Melvin knows that he cannot let his family down by changing careers, and besides, who would hire a thirty-seven-year old who only has a high school diploma any way? He knows that he did not mean to hurt that girl, let alone kill her.
Throughout the hour-long ceremony, Melvin remains towards the back of the crowd, but once the pristine white bike has been securely chained and locked around a light pole and people start to disperse, Melvin takes a moment to say a silent prayer.
Her name is Guadalupe Delgado, born September 1, 1995 and died August 16, 2016. A picture is centered showcasing her short purple hair, her face flashing a beaming smile. A message says, “Lupe was a radiant and shining star.”
Melvin wishes her star was still shining. But even in the darkest moments, a star is there, however faint or bright, to guide one’s way. He prays that Lupe would be a star to guide him in life. He prays that she has found peace, which for the first time in a few weeks, he can finally say he has. He prays that their new baby is a girl, and plans to name her Lupe with the hope that she can remain a bright star for him to see grow, for him to protect, and for him to guide from now on.